The Shannon in 1792

This is the text of a letter published in The European Magazine, and London Review: Containing the Literature, History, Politics, Arts, Manners and Amusements of the Age Vol 22 from July to December 1792 [Philological Society of London]; it is available online here on pages 331 and 332.

The author’s name is not given. The most prominent resident of Shinkliff (Shincliffe) in1792 seems to have been William Rudd, but I have found no evidence that he visited Ireland.

There are some errors in the article. Lough Esk is in Co Donegal, and not along the course of the Shannon; I guess that the author was referring to Loughs Bofin and Boderg. Is it possible that they were previously known as Lough Esk? The size of Lough Derg is underestimated.

I have commented elsewhere on the Cargo Cult Theory of Irish Waterways: that their development will bring wealth, even if the method of doing so is not specified. The Shincliffe Traveller seems to be an adherent of the same cult, which might also be likened to the Underpants Gnomes’ business plan. However, the article is interesting as a relatively early example of the faith placed in the exploitation of the Shannon.

I have replaced the long S used in the original, modernised the punctuation slightly and broken the text into smaller paragraphs but I have retained the spellings used.

The River Shannon in Ireland

To the Editor of the European Magazine


Perhaps there is not a River in the dominions of Great Britain that has so little struck, in this Age of Knowledge and Enquiry, the attention of the Traveller, the Antiquary, and the Philosopher, as this noble River has done; and no River deserves it more than the Shannon, which takes its course from a small mountain in the northern parts of the county of Leitrim, in the province of Connaught; and after the run of many miles diffuses into a large Lake, that assumes the name of Lough Allen, about thirty miles in circumference, and encompassed with high mountains, which enliven and beautify the scenery of the Lake, in whose vicinity, and in whose mountains, are found iron ore and coal equal to those imported from Cumberland to Dublin, and with industry might be converted into a profitable branch of commerce. From this romantic lake the Shannon issues with pride, and in full stream; and after the progress of many miles expands again her full and gentle current, and forms Lough Esk, a beautiful Lake of considerable length, but not very broad.

Passing from Lough Esk to some considerable length, this River again plays her vagaries by forming herself into another beautiful Lake below the town of Lanesborough, over which is a bridge that divides Leinster from Connaught. This Lake is called Lough Ree, twenty miles long, and about fifteen broad; a Lake most beautifully diversified with many islands, some inhabited, and all stocked with cattle; several adorned with the ruins of religious houses, among which are the ruins of two Abbies, which, with the improvements on the skirts of this Lake, make the scene appear beautiful and grand. It expands itself to Athlone, a populous town seated on both sides of the Shannon, garrisoned with foot and horse: remarkable for the siege and defence it made during the contest between William and James for the Imperial Crown of Great Britain, and was at length reduced by General Ginkle, who was ennobled by the title of the Earl of Athlone.

After quitting this town and Lake the Shannon appears again a large and beautiful River, breaking forth on the eyes of the Traveller between the counties of Tipperary and Clare, where it plays its pranks for the last time, forming the delightful Lake which takes the name of Lough Derg, eighteen miles long and five broad. Leaving this Lake, and those other beautiful Lakes which I have mentioned, as so many pledges of her love and affection to the many counties which she passed through and beautified with her gentle stream, she again rolls with a full and swelled stream for many miles, and at length imbosoms herself into the arms of the wide and expanded Western Ocean, about sixty miles below the city of Limerick. Once more displaying her beauty, many Islands are to be seen richly beautified by Nature, one of which, the island of Inniscattery, contains eleven churches, founded by Saint Sherman, before the arrival of Saint Patrick in Munster; and a round tower, one hundred and twenty feet in height, graces the scene of this ancient groupe of religious houses.

And here permit me, not having blind prejudice for my guide, to take this fair and noble River in a political point of view, the largest in Ireland, and, all other circumstances duly considered, the finest in the British dominions of Europe; not so much on account of running upwards of two hundred miles from North to West, almost dividing and washing with her gentle stream one half of the kingdom, but also of her insular situation and great depth in most places, and the gentleness of her current, through which she might, by national enterprize, be made serviceable to commerce and navigation, and the improvement of agriculture; arts which raise a people from a state of stupefaction and indolence to affluence and industry.

This peculiar prerogative of the River Shannon, running from North to West, almost contrary to the course of all other Rivers, makes her of the greatest consequence to the people of Ireland. By this she separates the province of Connaught from those of Leinster and Munster, thereby dividing the most fertile part of the kingdom into what lies on the East and the West of that River, watering in her passage the valuable, though the unimproved, county of Leitrim, the plentiful and fertile county of Roscommon, and the fruitful county of Galway, in Connaught; the small but fair county of Longford, King’s County, and the fertile county of Westmeath, in Leinster; the populous county of Tipperary, the spacious and delightful county of Limerick, the rough but pleasant county of Kerry, and the beautiful county of Clare, in Munster. The Shannon not only visits and washes with her gentle current these ten counties, but she likewise invites ten more to partake of her bounty, by numerous Lakes and Rivers, which lie scattered on the bosom of these counties connected with those on her banks.

Among many Market Towns of lesser note on the banks of this delightful River, are the following remarkable ones: The towns of Leitrim, Carrick, James Town, Lanesborough, Athlone, Banagher, and Birr; cities of Killaloe, Clonfert, and Limerick, which now begins to improve and flourish in arts and manufactures, by the munificence and under the patronage of Lord Perry, who dignifies the Nobleman by introducing manufactures, and promoting industry and civilization among people, who only want the patronage and the example of such a Nobleman to be followed by the rest of the Gentry of Ireland, to make them a rich and flourishing people. The natives want not genius, but to be unshackled and led into the way of industry, and they will surely follow it. Their idleness arises not from native indolence, but want of encouragement to give it a proper force.

From the city of Limerick the Shannon is navigable to the sea, upwards of sixty miles, for vessels of the largest burthens. In her whole course form this city she spreads like a sea, affording to the contemplative mind scenes entirely new, and such as, impressed on the native mind of an Irishman, would make him prefer the advantage arising from the situation and course of the Shannon to the acquisition of conquered provinces. Of what I have seen and observed of the River Shannon, and the new sources of wealth which are likely by her means to be opened to the internal parts of the country, by new communications already made, and those now making, with the spirit of improvement going forward in Ireland, we may fairly promise, without divination or the spirit of prophecy, that in time Ireland must be rich and wealthy. If our modern Reformers would turn their eyes to their country, first reform the manners and customs of the people, by enuring them to industry, dispelling blind prejudice and bigotry from their minds; these only, and the abolition of the little narrow system of policy that at present governs that country to her utter ruin, would make her great and flourishing; the true mode of Government conducing more to the wealth of a nation than all the systematic plans of modern Reformers, and the innovations of Politicians.

I cannot conclude this sketch of the Shannon without saying something of Connaught, a province naturally connected with this River, and very little known to Travellers. It is, notwithstanding the poverty of the inhabitants, a fertile country; though not abounding in grain, it is yet a fruitful province; and, if properly cultivated and improved, might produce all the necessaries of life, being capable, from the richness of its soil, of the highest cultivation under proper management.

From what I have seen of the ruins of old castles and remains of religious houses scattered all over this part of the kingdom, I conclude, in a more remote period Connaught exhibited a more respectable figure than it does now. There are not many towns of note in the province, and those that claim the attention of the Traveller seem not in the most flourishing condition. We do not here meet with wall-enclosed fields planted and cultivated, nor yet with farm-houses neatly built, and inhabited by industrious yeomanry; no, the weary Traveller sees nothing but a dreary waste, a country like an inter-common, covered with sheep and black cattle; here and there a hut, the habitation of the lonely herdsman, the guardian and watch of these numerous herds; perhaps few hamlets in a long ride; and at some distance the proud mansion of the proprietor of these flocks and herds, glutted with avarice and oppression, feasting with his eyes on the wide-expanded waste, and the desolation made by driving those whom he might call friends and brothers to seek an asylum among strangers in foreign climes, who, if encouraged, might live happy in the bosom of their friends and their country. I must confess, that there are Gentlemen of the most liberal minds and understanding in Connaught, who lament the situation of the lower class of people, who clearly see the narrow policy of the Gentlemen of landed property in letting their estates to a kind of hirelings called Under-Landlords. They must in time see their error.

The Traveller who would wish to see this part of Ireland need not be discouraged at this hasty sketch, for there are many antiquities, curiosities, and romantic scenes, scattered through this province, worth the attention of the curious enquirer.

A Traveller

Shinkliff [Shincliffe], near Durham, July 31, 1792


9 responses to “The Shannon in 1792

  1. Pingback: Underwear and the Ulster Canal | Irish waterways history

  2. . I am looking for a copy of the original Survey of the Upper Shannon 1836 0r 1837, would appreciate any help. Many thanks. B.Foley..

  3. There were several surveys of the Shannon before then, but I suspect you’re referring to the reports of the Shannon Commissioners in the 1830s and 1840s. There were three sets of Shannon Commissioners in that period: the first lot [SC1] did an overview with suggestions for improvement, the second lot [SC3] produced detailed plans and estimates and the third lot [SC3] carried out the work between 1839 and 1850.

    For SC1, use EPPI and enter the words

    Shannon Burgoyne

    in the search box; you should get “Letter from the Chief Secretary for Ireland … ” 1831-32 and “Letter from Colonel J F Burgoyne …” 1833; you might also be interested in the Select Committee report of 1834. These online versions may not have all the maps etc.

    The SC2 group made several reports and EPPI has, I think, only that for 1836. You may have to go to the National Library or the Waterways Ireland archive in Enniskillen. I’m sure some other libraries will also have that material.

    Most but not all of the SC3 reports are available through EPPI.


  4. Is there any information regarding the old Banagher canal spur line circa 1843/44? Its currently located on the Galway side of Banagher. Did it have use of flash lock gates or traditional timber lock gates and where would one find plans for same?

  5. Hi, Alan. Banagher had a flash lock using timber gates. Ruth Delany has quite a bit about it in The Shannon Navigation as it was the subject of various reports over the years. The OSI map shows the overall layout, which is much the same as on the earlier Grantham map. Banagher historians including James Scully have done quite a bit of work on the history of the navigation through the town; I was at a very good lecture they organised a few years ago. I don’t know if they have written it up in more permanent form, but James Scully would be a good person to ask. bjg

  6. Many thanks Brian.This knowledge is useful. I’ve recently being informed that the area is under the control of local trustees, given that it’s part of Banagher park and there is a desire among some local people to see the lock refurbished with both Breast and Tail gates.The bank sides of the canal require vegetation clearance and while I don’t envisage it ever opening up to navigation traffic,it would be nice to see it complete because if this fixture was in Co.Kerry it would be done by now as a matter of civic pride and utilised as a draw for the visiting tourist. Banagher has some wonderful pieces of historical architecture and local history.

  7. Absolutely. The town is full of historic gems and associations (and a good brewery), but somehow it doesn’t seem to get the attention it deserves. Maybe an app to guide visitors on a walking tour of the town, providing information on various buildings etc?


  8. Dear Waterway Historian, this is a very long shot, but sometimes they bear fruit! I live in Australia and have been researching family history for along time. My G Grandfather, John Wilson, was born in Tullamore in 1823. His father was also John, and described on my GG.s death certificate as Assistant Harbour Master,from Tullamore. While we know a lot about JW junior and his life in Australia, JW senior and his wife, Jane Powell, are a mystery to us.Can you help in any way?? (Mrs) Fay long

  9. I have no relevant information to hand. Here is the harbour:,634124,725229,10,7

    The Grand Canal Company’s archives are in the National Archives in Dublin but not, alas, available online. But Tullamore has an excellent local history society which offers a family history service, with an initial assessment at a very reasonable price.


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